As marchers outside joined the annual March for Life to the Supreme Court, retired Bishop Timothy Whitaker extolled Christian pro-life teaching at the annual Lifewatch service at the Capitol Hill United Methodist Building.
“This march is more than a protest against destroying the lives of unborn children,” Whitaker said. “It is a festival for celebrating the gift of life and for remembering that every human being who is conceived is irreplaceable and deserves protection by the state and carte from his or her community.”
Whitaker was introduced by United Methodist pastor Paul Stallsworth, who heads Lifewatch, the church’s unofficial pro-life caucus. He noted his group’s frequent disagreement with the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, owner of the United Methodist Building. But he also appreciatively introduced that board’s general secretary, Susan Henry Crowe, who briefly shared her agency’s greetings.
United Methodism’s official lobby agency has historically defended abortion rights even as the denomination is heading in a pro-life direction, revoking its previous support for Roe v. Wade in 2016.
Whitaker was perhaps the first United Methodist bishop in recent decades to articulate pro-life advocacy when he addressed Lifewatch in 2005. This year he again spoke unequivocally.
“Being a member of the church entails confessing certain beliefs and practicing certain behaviors, which explains Christians’ revulsion against abortion and our public witness for life.” Whitaker said. “What makes the church stand out is that it defines itself as something different from the rest of the world, and that is why the church is loved by many as well as hated by may.”
Whitaker noted “there are people who are powerfully attracted to the church when the church offers them an alternative way of living in the world,” offering itself as “place of liberation and hope for those aspiring to live a more noble existence.” In a culture where lives are “degraded by the sexual revolution, which includes an affirmation of the moral horror of abortion,” the church “must run counter to culture rather than cozy up to culture.”
Describing the March for Life as part of St. Peter’s calling to proclaim the “mighty acts of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light,” Whitaker said God is the “source of life of all humankind” and wills that “everyone come to know the fullness of life which God intends, including the unborn.”
Whitaker warned of a “profound error” to think the church may have different doctrines and disciplines in different places and times, as Christian teaching has always been “transcultural.” The example of the early church is instructive, he said, citing opposition to abortion by Clement of Alexandria, Athenagoras, Tertullian, and Origen. The Didache of the early church warned “you shall not murder a child by abortion, nor kill that which is begotten.” The Apostles taught both doctrine and discipline because the “truth that has been revealed to us is always a way and a life.”
Citing United Methodism’s current debate over sexuality, Whitaker said many church members are “desperate” to remain the “religion of the culture” and urge the church to adapt to the “values of the culture.” But the church cannot remain the church unless it is “continuous with the proclamation and tradition of the apostles.” In a post-Christendom era the church can no longer align with culture and must instead return to the countercultural example of the early church, as a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.”
Video of Whitaker’s sermon and the rest of the Lifewatch service can be seen here.